The Arc Receives Support from Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation for Employment Program

Washington, DC – The Arc is pleased to announce that it has received $105,000 over three years from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation to support its Specialisterne Replication project.  The Specialisterne program creates inclusive employment opportunities for youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including Asperger’s Syndrome, in the information technology (IT) field.
The Arc has a partnership with Specialisterne USA,  a 501(c)(3) charitable organization established by The Specialist People Foundation, a Danish nonprofit organization that works to create meaningful employment for people with autism and similar challenges by building relationships with technology companies that need employees whose skill sets match the characteristics of many people on the autism spectrum.  The program engages top companies with IT needs interested in hiring youth with ASD and pairs them with chapters of The Arc that provide short-term intensive training and on-the-job support for youth with ASD.  At the end of training, companies may hire program participants as developers, programmers, analysts, and administrators.  Employers also receive training on supporting employees with ASD.  Chapters of The Arc in Philadelphia and New York, working in collaboration with Specialisterne USA, began replicating the Specialisterne program in 2014.  The 2015-2016 grant will allow The Arc to expand this crucial program to the Washington, DC area.
The program emphasizes that many youth with ASD are qualified to work in highly skilled positions, and with employer commitment and support they can be successful in community-based jobs of their choosing.
“There are many young people with ASD that possess the skills that are in high demand in the tech industry.  This program plays matchmaker, and through our chapter network, we can not only connect a population we serve with employment in the community, we are raising awareness in a major industry about what people with disabilities can do.  It’s an exciting initiative and we are thrilled to have the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation’s support,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation has released  $1,539,600 in new and continuing grants, as part of its national M>PWR Initiative designed to empower youth and young people with disabilities to lead productive lives through increased employment.

Execution of Warren Hill “Shakes the Foundation of our Legal System for People with Intellectual Disabilities”

Washington, DC – This evening, the state of Georgia executed Warren Hill, a man who experts unanimously determined to have intellectual disability, which should have ruled out the death penalty per a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, Atkins v. Virginia, and a 2014 Supreme Court ruling, Hall v. Florida. There was a stay motion and a petition for a writ of certiorari filed to the U.S. Supreme Court which was denied this evening. Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor voted to stay the execution.

“Georgia’s ability to ignore experts and cross the line drawn by a more than decade-old Supreme Court ruling shakes the foundation of our legal system for people with intellectual disabilities. Just last year, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring justice for individuals with intellectual disability, with their ruling in Hall v. Florida, and it is extremely disappointing that following this decision justice did not prevail in Georgia.

“The facts in this case are clear – experts unanimously agreed that Mr. Hill had intellectual disability, yet the appeals at the state and federal levels were ignored.  The state’s actions in this case are unconscionable,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Warren Lee Hill, was found by a state court judge to have an IQ of approximately 70 and to meet the criteria for intellectual disability overall by a preponderance of the evidence. Georgia’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” legal standard for proving intellectual disability claims prevents Mr. Hill from being protected by Georgia and federal law prohibiting the execution of people with intellectual disability.

“This is a sad day for our community, and a shameful one for the courts that allowed this unconstitutional execution to take place. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Hill’s family and his legal team.  The Arc will continue fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and in the aftermath of this case we will only increase our legal advocacy efforts to ensure that the Supreme Court’s decisions are upheld and justice is appropriately served,” said Berns.

The Arc has been involved in this case for years. Nationally The Arc has participated in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court and written multiple letters urging clemency on behalf of Mr. Hill.

In its 2002 Atkins decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with intellectual disability (formerly referred to as “mental retardation”) and banned the execution of persons with intellectual disability as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In its more recent 2014 Hall decision, the U.S. Supreme Court again reinforced its earlier decision that people with intellectual disabilities not be executed, requiring that consideration of evidence beyond IQ tests be taken into account when determining intellectual disability.

The Arc Responds to Denial of Clemency for Warren Hill

Washington, DC – This morning, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles voted to deny clemency in the case of Warren Hill, a man who has an intellectual disability (ID). Mr. Hill’s diagnosis of intellectual disability allows for protections found within the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida. There is a stay motion and a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. They can still intervene and stay the execution, sparing Mr. Hill’s life.

“A gross miscarriage of justice has been committed in Georgia today. It is extremely disappointing that the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles failed to listen to pleas from The Arc, other organizations and experts to commute Mr. Hill’s sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole.  The facts in this case are clear – and the state’s action clearly goes against the U.S. Supreme Court’s previous decisions in Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida. We hope that the Supreme Court will intervene and stay the execution, they are the last and only chance for justice in this case,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Warren Lee Hill, was found by a state court judge to have an IQ of approximately 70 and to meet the criteria for intellectual disability overall by a preponderance of the evidence. Georgia’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” legal standard for proving intellectual disability claims prevents Mr. Hill from being protected by Georgia and federal law prohibiting the execution of people with intellectual disability.

The Arc has been involved in this case for years. Nationally The Arc has participated in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court and written multiple letters urging clemency on behalf of Mr. Hill.

In its 2002 Atkins decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with intellectual disability (formerly referred to as “mental retardation”) and banned the execution of persons with intellectual disability as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In its more recent 2014 Hall decision, the U.S. Supreme Court again reinforced its earlier decision that people with intellectual disabilities not be executed, requiring that consideration of evidence beyond IQ tests be taken into account when determining intellectual disability.

“Unreal” – My Trip To Washington for the President’s State of the Union Address

Senator Bob Casey and Sara Wolff

Senator Bob Casey and Sara Wolff

An interview with Sara Wolff, board member of National Down Syndrome Society, Board Member of The Arc of Pennsylvania, and her local chapter, The Arc Northeastern Pennsylvania as their Secretary.

Sara Wolff, 31, is a leading advocate for the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act for 8 years and continuing speaking and advocating for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), Down syndrome and other disabilities. Sara spoke to The Arc’s staff by phone on her way back home to Pennsylvania after attending the President’s State of the Union address as a guest of her U.S. Senator, Bob Casey. Members of Congress are given only one ticket for a guest at the annual speech before Congress. Sara and Senator Casey worked together on the ABLE Act, which President Obama signed into law in December of 2014.

What did you do before attending the speech?

I had dinner with Senator Casey and his wife, we had a great time. We also did some television interviews – it was awesome. We did four interviews together and we talked about the ABLE Act and many other issues.

What did you think about the speech?

I was very interested in many of President Obama’s points – I liked what he said about education and the middle class.

What did you think about being in the chamber?

Unreal. I felt like I was right there, with the President. Where I was seated he was right in the center. What an experience that I will never forget.

How was your seat?

It was crowded and I sat with a lot of people. I met a lot of people and I had a good time. I did have a good view of the President speaking.

What did you do after the speech?

I just hung out with my sister and Senator Casey’s staff. Went back to his office for a little while. It was a really cool night. I’m looking forward to getting home and doing more with the National Down Syndrome Society, The Arc of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and continuing to working at O’Malley & Langan Law Office in Scranton.

Hypertension More Prevalent in Individuals with IDD

Woman with nurse34% of adults with disabilities have high blood pressure compared to 26% of individuals without disabilities. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often called the “silent killer.” Many people have high blood pressure and go about their business every day not even knowing it. This is one of many reasons why regular check-ups are vital to maintaining good health. A recent study published by the CDC stated that individuals with disabilities are 13% more likely to have high blood pressure levels than individuals without disabilities. Individuals with mobility issues have an even higher risk and are 23% more likely.

Blood pressure, which is the pressure of blood against the walls of blood vessels, can be hazardous if it remains at a continually high level. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or less. Any higher than 120/80 and it is considered at risk for high blood pressure (also called pre-hypertension). A reading of 140/90 or higher is categorized as hypertension and you should consult your doctor. High blood pressure basically means that the heart is working overtime circulate blood and keep the body running efficiently. Working at this escalated level causes wear and damage to the blood vessels and heart, which leads to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

Factors that can contribute to high blood pressure are obesity, lack of physical activity, and diabetes – all issues that are very prevalent in individuals with disabilities. Foods with high percentages of sodium, fat, and cholesterol are also contributors and unfortunately can be found in may pre-made or frozen foods; which may be distributed to individuals at group homes, shared living residents, etc. because they are cost efficient and quick/easy to prepare. Preparing fresh meals at home is the best way to know what ingredients and how much salt is going into meals.

While some factors, like genetics and family history, you can’t change there fortunately are many easy things that you can modify in your daily life to try to lower and maintain your blood pressure level. Some of these things include:

  1. Eat a healthier diet including many fruits and vegetables.
  2. Reduce sodium intake. (Look for low/no sodium on food labels, rinse canned food to remove excess salt)
  3. Maintain a healthy weight.
  4. Get regular physical activity.
  5. Don’t smoke (or quit if you currently do smoke).
  6. Limit alcohol intake.
  7. Reduce stress.

Individuals that can’t bring their blood pressure levels down by making changes to their diet/lifestyle may need medication from a doctor to help lower levels. Many individuals with disabilities are on other medications as well, so make sure to ask the doctor about side effects and if previous medications will be an issue.

Having blood pressure checked every 1-2 years will help to monitor levels. If high blood pressure is detected, it is a good idea to check it more regularly. A blood pressure machine can easily be purchased at most drug stores or pharmacies at a relatively low cost.

For more information about eating healthier, increasing physical activity, and more check out The Arc’s HealthMeet page with plenty of resources and archived webinars to get started.

Statement from Brian Kammer, Attorney for Warren Hill

“Today Georgia set an execution date for a man who has had intellectual disability since childhood, and whose execution would be unconstitutional. Twice the lower court found Warren Hill to have intellectual disability by the preponderance of the evidence, a widely-used and appropriate standard. All of the states’ experts have agreed, and in fact no expert who has ever examined Mr. Hill disputes that he has intellectual disability. Many prominent leaders in the field of intellectual disability agree that Mr. Hill should not face execution because he is a person with lifelong intellectual disability. The only reason that he is now at risk of execution is that Georgia’s standard – requiring capital defendants to prove they have intellectual disability ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ – is not science-based and inherently denies people like Mr. Hill from receiving the protection which the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote in Hall v. Florida, ‘Persons facing that most severe sanction must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution.’  Georgia’s standard does not allow that ‘fair opportunity.’ It is unfathomable that Georgia is planning the execution of a man with intellectual disability, who is constitutionally protected from execution.”

-Brian Kammer, attorney for Warren Hill

-January 16, 2015

The execution order can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/1AoNSaR

House Rules for 114th Congress Set Up Attack on Social Security and SSDI

This week, the House of Representatives adopted its rules of procedure for the 114th Congress (H. Res. 5). Stunningly, buried in this usually dry, non-controversial measure was an attack on Social Security that will put at risk Congress’s ability to prevent a 20% cut in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in 2016.

The provision, inserted by Representatives Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Tom Reed (R-NY) and approved by a vote of 234 to 168, sets up procedural hurdles to House consideration of a needed, routine replenishment of Social Security’s disability fund. Shockingly, these major changes were never considered in hearings or open to input from constituents. While these rules only affect the House – not the Senate – they set a dangerous tone for how the 114th Congress may deal with Social Security and SSDI.

Here are three facts about this week’s House action that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends need to know:

  1. Congress needs to act by 2016 to prevent 20% across-the-board cuts in SSDI benefits.

Congress from time to time needs to adjust Social Security’s finances to account for population and economic shifts. The need to replenish the DI fund in 2016 to account for current trends, such as an older workforce now in its disability-prone years, has been expected for several decades. Without Congressional action, in 2016 the DI fund’s reserves will be depleted, leaving only incoming payroll contributions to pay for benefits. As a result, unless Congress acts, SSDI beneficiaries will face benefit cuts of 20% at the end of 2016.

  1. “Reallocation” is the common-sense, traditional solution.

Over the last 5 decades, Congress has repeatedly, on a bipartisan basis, used a simple, common-sense solution to address shortfalls in either of Social Security’s two funds (the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance or OASI fund, and the Disability Insurance or DI fund). A temporary shift to direct more Social Security revenues to the DI fund – called “reallocation” — will extend the solvency of the DI fund for almost two decades. Congress has made similar shifts 11 times in the past, about equally increasing the percentage going into one fund or the other. Reallocation does not require any new taxes. Additionally, the solvency of the overall Social Security system stays the same, with the combined funds remaining fully solvent through 2033.

  1. The House action creates roadblocks to strengthening Social Security, include SSDI.

The House rules of procedure govern how the House operates. The provision adopted in the House rules for the 114th Congress bars the House from reallocating to the DI fund. Procedurally, the House can in the future vote to waive this requirement – meaning that a reallocation could move forward, but only if the rule is waived. But the insertion of this provision into the House rules will create serious roadblocks to reallocation – and to Congress’s ability to keep Social Security’s promise to the more than 165 million hardworking Americans who contribute to Social Security and the nearly 11 million Americans who currently receive SSDI.

Want to learn more? Here are a few articles on the House action, from:

The Arc Calls on Governor McAuliffe to Grant a Conditional Pardon for Neli Latson Immediately

Stafford, VA – Today was another day in court for Neli Latson, a young man with autism who has spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. His case has become the symbol for dysfunction in our national justice system for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  As Latson entered a guilty plea today to charges of assault, The Arc is calling on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who now has the legal authority to take action, to promptly grant a conditional pardon so that Latson can be transferred from the criminal justice system to the developmental disability system, where he will receive the services he needs.

“Mr. Latson is caught in a recurring cycle of prosecution and punishment due to factors related to his disabilities. He is not a criminal. He is a person with autism and intellectual disability whose behaviors can be aggressive, often in an attempt to communicate. Prison is not where Mr. Latson belongs,” wrote Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, to Governor McAuliffe in early December requesting a conditional pardon.

Latson, who is 22, has been incarcerated since August 2013 as a result of behavior connected to his disability.  He has been held in solitary confinement for most of that time and is presently at a Virginia state prison.  His tragic situation is the result of events surrounding his initial detention which occurred while waiting for the public library to open, and from subsequent mental health crises resulting from his confinement.  A conditional pardon would allow Latson to be moved immediately to a facility in Florida that will provide the support necessary to help him move on from these events.

Advocates from The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) and The Arc of Virginia have been involved in this case for months, advocating alongside Latson’s legal team.  NCCJD is operated by The Arc and is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof.  NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for criminal justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with I/DD, whose disability often goes unrecognized, and who are overrepresented in the nation’s criminal justice system.  Currently, NCCJD is developing training for law enforcement, victim service providers and legal professionals that will support police departments, prosecutor’s offices, and other professionals in the criminal justice system to effectively and fairly administer justice for people with disabilities.

Justice Can Seem Insurmountable – New Pathways to Justice™ Introduction Video Aims to Help People with I/DD Navigate Daunting System

Too many times people with disabilities come into contact with the criminal justice system and the outcome is anything but just.”

The opening words of a new video created by The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD), the Pathways to Justice Introduction Video, powerfully highlight the broad lack of justice for people with disabilities within America’s criminal justice system. This four and a half minute video introduces the Pathways to Justice Model, and integral part of the Pathways to Justice training program being piloted by five chapters of The Arc. The Pathways to Justice Training Curriculum helps build the capacity of the criminal justice system to effectively identify, serve, and protect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), many of whom have “mild” disabilities that often go unnoticed among criminal justice professionals without appropriate training. The video points out why communities should seek additional training for criminal justice professionals.

Navigating the criminal justice system, as a suspect, offender, witness, or victim, is daunting for anyone. For people with I/DD and their families, there can be insurmountable obstacles to obtaining justice. The new Pathways to Justice Introduction Video highlights specific cracks in the criminal justice system through the telling of real life stories by people with disabilities and by their family members.

Take James’ story. James Meadours is a powerful self-advocate with intellectual disabilities who experienced multiple victimizations throughout his life—without anyone every knowing. As an adult, James was raped in his own apartment. He found the courage to reach out for help, leading to the successful prosecution of his attacker and the revelation that there had been multiple victimizations throughout James’ life. While this story ended positively with the attacker held accountable for the crime and James empowering others with his self-advocacy, society overall must do a better job creating safer lives in the community for people with disabilities. Research supports the fact that multiple victimizations are quite common among people with disabilities—this is unacceptable. James did not have to suffer in silence alone for so many years, we as a society can do better.

Using the Pathways to Justice Model, NCCJD aims to build collaborative relationships within the criminal justice and disability professions, creating solutions to identify, prevent, and stop injustices faced by people with disabilities. The Pathways to Justice Introduction Video debuted at The Arc’s National Convention in New Orleans with positive reviews, and was played at The Arc of North Carolina’s State Convention the following week. Chapters have already begun requesting copies to take to local law enforcement and criminal justice professionals as a way to effectively demonstrate the need for quality training on disability issues.

NCCJD wants you to help bridge gaps in your community’s criminal justice system. If we’re truly going to stop injustice in our nation’s criminal justice system against people with disabilities, we must take action. Get involved by:

  • Sharing the video: Use the conversation guide and the Pathways to Justice Model to begin a collaborative effort in your community. Let others in your state or community know about NCCJD as a reliable and trusted resource funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, and use the video to educate the criminal justice community about the need for effective training on disability issues.
  • Using NCCJD as a resource: NCCJD provides technical assistance and information & referral regarding a broad range of criminal justice issues. If you have a question involving the criminal justice system and someone with a disability use our online form.
  • Putting your state’s resources on the map: If there is a great resource in your area that we should know about, tell us! Visit the state map site to learn more: http://www.thearc.org/NCCJD/resources/by-state

While obtaining justice seems insurmountable at times, the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability is committed to working with parents, professionals, self-advocates, and other advocates to create pathways to justice for all people with disabilities.